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The Dawn of Climate-Friendly Air Travel

Air travel contributes substantially to global carbon emissions, but it is not part of the 2015 Paris climate accord, which will soon enter into force. Fortunately, now is an ideal time to decouple emissions from booming growth in air travel, and the UN's civil-aviation arm may have just come up with a way to do it.

MONTREAL – As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, demand for air travel is growing, with more than 30,000 new large aircraft expected to take to the skies in the next few years. But if we are to sustain growth in air travel without aggravating global warming, we must quickly reduce aviation-related CO2 emissions, which are substantial and not covered by the Paris climate agreement that more than 190 countries agreed to last December.

Fortunately, now is the perfect time to decouple aviation emissions from air-travel growth. Representatives from 191 countries convened in Montreal this week for the 39th Session of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization; after decades of wrangling, they have agreed to an aviation-specific climate agreement.

The new ICAO framework aims for “carbon-neutral growth” in international aviation from 2020 onward, and has as its centerpiece a global market-based measure (GMBM) to help airlines affordably cap their net emissions at 2020 levels. When implemented, it will be the first carbon-emissions cap on a global industry that does not noticeably increase costs for consumers. And airlines will purchase emissions reductions from other economic sectors, thus funneling billions of dollars into low-carbon development around the world.

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